Austin, Texas is one of my favourite cities globally for many reasons; among them, year round local events, festivals and celebrations for all ages, its democratic political reputation (the blue dot in a sea of red) and its weird-cool culture.
Another reason I love Austin is its amazing ability to connect people together. I’ve had one such experience.
Earlier this year I attended SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin to pick up the Dewey Winburne Community Service award that was granted to me in recognition of my digital literacy work with high school students in Africa. At the award ceremony, I met Yasmin and Papa Diallo from HOPE for Senegal, who were interested in organizing a digital camp for students of El Hadji Malick Sy High School in Thiès (pronounced ‘chess’), Senegal. I agreed.
Last week, the Jamlab team – Kas, Jane and I – conducted a Digital Camp at the afore mentioned institution. The camp was primarily aimed at teaching the students the value of openness, collaboration and sharing on the Internet and how they can translate this to benefit themselves as well as their families and communities.
The highlight of the program was seeing how digital culture could easily be transmuted despite some level of language barrier and differing cultures and the knowledge sharing between two African countries. To be honest, its not the first time I’ve worked in intra-African knowledge sharing programs but something was really special about this initiative.
You see most true African cultures are based on values such as kindness, sharing and cooperation. These values are in some ways directly responsible for the growth of digital cultures such as collaboration and sharing. In fact, the greatest of the web’s achievements are solidly built on these values. A good case in example would be Wikipedia.
The training we conducted in Senegal was highly based on these values that sustain digital culture and I was completely blown away by how easy it was for the Senegalese community to relate to and adopt the materials we presented to them. If anything, it felt like we had been working on them together for years primarily because it felt like familiar territory.
…and that strikes a thought in my mind…
If the values in digital culture and African heritage are similar, can we use them to foster intra-African collaboration and knowledge sharing?
If my experience working in Senegal is any benchmark to go by, I would say its definitely worth a shot. The only challenge I foresee is the murky territorial behaviour of a few luminaries in the technology industry.
“…If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”
- Genesis 11:6 NIV
Here’s a little thing you didn’t know about me: I never owned a laptop till my third year of University.
A lot of people, like you, are probably wondering how I managed.
In 2010, I heard about a conference called Tech4Africa. From their website:
Tech4Africa is the premier mobile, web & emerging technology event, bringing global perspective to the African context.
Culminating in an annual event over two days, which brings together attendees and speakers from around the world, our vision is that technology can catalyse economic and social change in Africa.
It’s an exciting time for African technology and we hope that you enjoy the opportunity that Tech4Africa presents, as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it all together.
Tech in Africa was just about booming with the launch of the iHub in Nairobi and the many techies who were just now building a community around technology. The Tech4Africa conference couldn’t come at a better time!
To market the conference, the team decided to give away an iPad (the original iPad 1 I must add) as a part of the competition before the conference.
Rules were simple. Tweet about the conference and you’ll get prize.
Fast forward to today.
I’m at SXSW and I meet these guys. Toby Shapshak, Nivi, Natalie Cofield and Gareth Knight. Gareth is the founder of Tech4Africa.
Natalie Cofield is the resident & CEO of the Capital City African American Chamber of Commerce in Austin, TX brought Nivi and I here through their Africa Diaspora Fellowship program. She had met Gareth Knight at last years Tech4Africa conference in South Africa.
Now here’s the interesting bit of the story:
Remember the iPad I told you about earlier? I won it.
For the longest time, that iPad was my primary computer before I got my laptop. It’s what I used to set up my initiatives (The Kuyu Project at the time) and run the organization. Its what connected me to my co-founders and enabled me to collaborate with them even though they were in different time zones. It’s what enabled me to use the Internet to tell my story and share my experiences with everyone else out there.
The dots connect when my work was recognized by the African American Capital City Chamber of Commerce and they awarded me the Africa Diaspora Fellowship. The Chamber had reached out to Tech4Africa team looking for people to award their fellowship.
So there we were – Natalie, Gareth and I – engaged in conversation stunned by the sum aggregate of our actions had come full circle! The dots had connected! In a sense, our actions contributed to the growth of each others initiatives which in turn made an impact on us and the people around us.
How powerful is that?
I don’t know what the future holds for each one of our initiatives honestly but I do know one thing for sure – our efforts wherever they may happen in whatever time, not only empowers those around us or our intended beneficiaries, but ourselves as well!
A lot of the buzz around SXSW focuses on the next big thing, the latest trends, preparing for the future etc. Its a great conversation really. I take nothing from that.
I am however concerned that we often forget what’s important – the value these conversations, thoughts and ideas add to our lives… more so, improve them.
Austin is a great city – not your stereotypical Texas city – but a great city nonetheless. It has a great culture, a vibrant people – a very friendly people at that, and to crown it all off, it offers one of the best conference experiences ever in the form of SXSW!
Thankfully, through the support of the Capital City African American Chamber of Commerce, I got a shot to experience it all for myself. I attended some pretty interesting panels, meetups and parties and talked to/met some really cool people.
The thing I find interesting the most is the culture and how it shapes the lifestyle and livelihoods of the people here.
I’m still wrapping my head around the crazy schedules and I look forward to day two and the rest of the programming. More soon as it unfolds.
I’m here with Nivi Mukherjee of eLimu. Check out her day 1 experience here.
About a year ago, a couple of colleagues and I went to Nsambya in Kampala to train a community of Congolese refugees on the value of social media and how they could use it to meet their goals. We did this training as part of The Kuyu Project programs in partnership Xavier Project. You can read more about the training here or watch a few of the highlights of the event in the video below
Last Friday, I got another opportunity to visit with this community and was pretty impressed by how far they had progressed over the last year. The community now has a physical space – Tamuka Hub – with 10 computers and a full time staff that provide trainings on all sorts of things including social media. The hub idea came out of a discussion we had with them about how they could design their space in a way that would better complement and facilitate their activities.
If you walk into Tamuka Hub today, you may be a little confused as to why its called a ‘hub’ but doesn’t necessarily have the look and feel of one. I was for a few moments. I later came to appreciate the value of what I had seen at Tamuka Hub.
Basically, it’s a co-working space of sorts with out all the flashy cool stuff and hype. It’s very basic and tries to provide the very basic resources necessary to carry out tasks. The thinking behind it is the flashy stuff and the hype distracts (and to some extent, prevents) people from focusing on their tasks and achieving personal and collective goals.
I agree with this thinking at its basic level.
If you own a hub or work in a community space etc, ask yourself this question. If you’re space were to be stripped down to a bare minimum – table, chairs and an Internet connection, without the hype, brand recognition etc – what would you say your personal and collective goals are?
No, really. Think about it.
The staff at Tamuka Hub are very clear on what their mission is – without a doubt. They make do with what they have and are very pragmatic about resource allocation. Rarely does anything get wasted. Anything that is used up achieves a well defined objective.
…and I believe this thinking yields really great productivity and stories.
I spent a good part of my afternoon yesterday following the proceedings at the Connected Kenya Summit which is aims to establish a platform for collaboration, capacity building and priority sharing between government and the IT sector with a view of linking and hastening implementation of government IT projects to world class standards.
One of the sessions, “Knowledge Diffusion & Open Data” focused heavily on the Kenya Open Data Initiative - its challenges and opportunities. The panel for this session was made up of the following people:
- Cam Cadwell, National Account Manager, Socrata
- Dr Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication
- Dr Katherine Getao, ICT Secretary, Directorate of eGovernment
- Marisella Ouma, CEO, Copyright Board
- Chris Finch, World Bank
- Paul Kukubo – CEO, Kenya ICT Board
Almost every one of these guys called out techies to make use of the open data portal by creating apps etc.
Techies reacted naturally: update the data.
Simple argument: Techies thrive in an environment that’s constantly moving fast with new technologies, new knowledge and new skills. So data that’s dated 2009 is very unappealing to this group.
That’s the boring stuff. Here’s the exciting part.
Rather than focus our efforts on asking the Government & other open data stakeholders like the World Bank to update their datasets, why don’t we participate in the open data movement by ‘creating’ open data? Here’s an example: setting up sensors on a public road to monitor and gather traffic data.
Chris Finch from the World Bank spoke about personal data and its value towards improving people’s lives if strategically mined to do so.
Why not build an open data portal and apps that aggregate citizen generated data?
The major value add here is that the data is real time and in that sense timely. This is critical because data made available as quickly as necessary preserves the value of the data – a core principle according to the Open Government Data Principles.
This also addresses the frustration of ‘old’ data on the existing data platforms.
Build on this?